Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington was born enslaved on the James Burroughs plantation in Hale’s Fort, Franklin County, Virginia in 1856. After the abolishment of chattel slavery in 1863 Booker T. Washington’s mother moved him and his sibling to Malden, West Virginia to live with their stepfather.

During his time in Malden Booker T. worked as a salt packer, coal miner and as a butler. It was while he was working inside a salt furnace that Booker T. Washington learned to read and write his first number,the number 18. While working inside the furnace a black man arrived in Malden who had a considerable amount of education. Booker T. was at first excited about the prospect of receiving an education, however, his dreams were soon shattered when his stepfather refused to allow him to go to school because the family needed the money his job brought in. Booker T was persistent and he soon convinced his stepfather to allow him to attend class at 9, if he woke up early to work in the furnace and came back for two hours in the afternoon. It was during this arrangement that Booker T. was faced with another problem: the distance between the school and the furnace. He solved this problem by setting the clock ahead one hour inside the mine to be sure he was able to make it to school on time.

At the age of 16 with just a few dollars and a small satchel Booker T. Washington travelled over 500 miles to reach Hampton Institute. He arrived in Hampton dirty, hungry and with just fifty cents; his entrance examination into the Institute was to clean a recitation room. He managed to put himself through college by performing janitorial services for Hampton Institute. Booker T. Washington graduated from Hampton Institute at the age of 19 and returned to Malden, West Virginia to teach where he helped his two brothers and several other local blacks get accepted into Hampton Institute.

In 1879 Booker T. Washington would return to Hampton Institute but this time as a teacher. His job during this time was to assist in the “education and civilization” of Native Americans. Next year he would run Hampton’s newly established night school. It was during a chapel service in May of 1881 that General Armstrong, Hampton’s president and founder, received a telegram from Tuskegee State Normal School’s board of commissioners, “ Booker T. Washington will suit us,” it read “send him at once.”

Booker T. Washington arrived in Tuskegee, Alabama in June of 1881. During his first month in Tuskegee he toured around the county spending the day and night at the houses of various blacks in order to examine their everyday lives and to promote the new school. The school would open on July 4, 1881 with 30 students.

On September 18, 1895 Booker T. Washington would deliver his Atlanta Exposition Speech at the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia. The speech nicknamed the Atlanta Compromise by W.E.B. DuBois, would catapulte Washington to fame. In 1901, Booker T. Washington became the first African American to be invited to the White House for dinner.

Booker T. Washington passed away on November 14, 1915 at the age of 59 due to conditions related to high blood pressure.

Last updated: February 7, 2020

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